New Elizabethans? No, our triumphs owe nothing to her
The Observer - Comment is free
2 Jan 2012
The Queen: so cool her clothes never crease. (Photo: Wpa Pool/Getty)
Is the Queen semi-divine? Increasingly, as new tributes to her preternatural ability and wisdom, beauty and self-denial, endurance and devotion have emerged in the approach to the jubilee, it is coming to seem the most persuasive explanation for her feats, which do not exclude the physically superhuman.
Even doubting North Koreans, accustomed to their own leaders' more showy displays of supernatural power, would have to concede that our queen does not sweat. "She doesn't glow," says Stewart Parvin, her dressmaker. "If you are a cold person your clothes don't crease." As a beautiful young woman, wise beyond her years, she seemed to glide rather than walk. Her son recalls her "amazing poise" and "natural grace". Like her predecessor, Elizabeth 1, the Queen has never been seen to sneeze, or not, BBC royal correspondents insist, without the very heavens convulsing, as if to sympathise with her discord.
Although, thanks to the impact of antibiotics on scrofula, the Queen's miraculous healing powers have not been scrupulously tested, she is said to cure herself and her corgis homeopathically – ie, by magic – using a "special ointment". Her hat never blows off. She is never late. Her outfits bring pleasure disproportionate to either their colour or design. The most truculent prime ministers fall under her spell. Throughout her wondrous childhood she would honour and obey. Her clothes were always neatly folded. Like Judas, nanny Crawfie got what she deserved.
Today, tempted daily by magnificent royal teas, the Queen invariably exercises exemplary restraint. She will never, unlike mortal men, grow fat. "She'll only have one or two sandwiches and maybe a sliver of cake," a former cook disclosed. Alcohol is limited to a nightly gin and Dubonnet. The contrast with her mother's prodigious intake of gin and violet creams, with her sister's tragic self-indulgence and her children's petulant requirements, only hints at differences too far beyond the ordinary to be dismissed.
Unless the very frailty of the Queen's family, with their all-too-human appetites, explains why it has taken so long for some subjects to comprehend, like the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, the numinous nature of her gift. Speaking on the Today programme, he said: "She makes us a little better than we otherwise might have been." She does? If so, after 60 years, she is half way to parity with Prince Philip, long revered as a full divinity by the people of Yaohnanen on the South Pacific island of Tanna. His 90th birthday last year is believed to have been celebrated by still-devout Yaohnanen worshippers with a traditional sacrifice of pigs.
For the Queen's anniversary, any sense of proportion has been the preferred ritual offering, even in the least superstitious parts of her kingdom. Not unlike the Yaohnanen, with their invention of some sort of connection between Prince Philip, apparently the son of a mountain spirit, and their own welfare, jubilee tributes have repeatedly gone beyond congratulations to affirm links between the Queen and national successes with which she can have no connection beyond the temporal.
A Yaohnanen member of the Prince Philip Movement might marvel at the depth of faith, or mounting hysteria, which now attributes innovations in science, medicine or the arts to the influence of a monarchy that was routinely accepted, pre-jubilee, to be dim, philistine and credulous. In this mood, even the decline of deference and advent of multiculturalism can be turned into a bizarre compliment to a hereditary monarch whose mother was described by Edward Stourton as a "ghastly old bigot", after he heard her complaints about "Huns, wops and dagos".
The mayor of London credits the "Second Elizabethan" age with, among many things, the Shard, economic prowess and our very biological survival. "If we measure monarchial success by the growth in longevity or per capita GDP of her subjects," he told readers of his Telegraph column, "then she is the most successful monarch in history." Of course, if we measure monarchial success by the achievements of London mayors, the quality of native strawberries or by coterminous progress in literacy, social mobility, manufacturing, bird flu, carbon emissions and attendance at Anglican churches, the picture is rather less promising, not to say unsuited to festivities proposed by top independent party expert Pippa Middleton. "Deck the table out in red, white and blue with poppers, hats and blowers and have bunting all along the street," she suggests. "Fill balloons with helium and tie them to lamp posts, garden gates or the backs of chairs. Fill bottles with petrol, light them with tapers and throw them at republicans." Well, except for the last part.
Since affection for the Queen and reservations about the monarchy are not, as Johnson suggests, mutually exclusive, her jubilee never promised much for republicans or the Charles-phobic, doomed to watch the garrulous prince bask in the glory trailing from a woman who has triumphed by saying nothing. But already the event has exceeded expectations of national grovelling and sycophancy instilled by last year's wedding. In particular, it has been instructive to find the BBC – in addition to its routine hagiography, featuring generous platforms for all willing royals – among those exhuming from the 50s, as a kind of attempted compliment, the term New Elizabethans.
Redeployed, with a matching list of top New Elizabethans to add a phoney debate to its jubilee coverage, the designation suggests some parallel between the current sovereign on her repro barge and the great monarch who reportedly spoke six languages and actually ruled over her country. Could it catch on? Even if republicans, who face with even less equanimity their coming metamorphosis into Charlesians, or possibly Williamites, are unlikely to respond, the prevailing mood as documented by the BBC appears utterly receptive to dominance by hereditary dog lovers as opposed to the kind of grimy political hacks who would be our choices as president.
Just in time for the jubilee, politicians are looking so bad that the very fact that neither the Queen nor her family, right down to the last full-time dress-wearer, has been contaminated by ideas, ambition or democratic election sets them blissfully apart. With princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – and even their papa, Prince Andrew – you can be certain of one thing: they will never face hostile questioning at the Leveson inquiry.
Watching footage of the tears and demented screams of North Koreans, bereft of the man who could make the thunder strike, foreign viewers asked if the emotion could possibly be genuine. From abroad, the current bunting explosion, officially inhospitable to dissent and focused on a non-sweating monarch of peerless virtue, must make Britons look almost as mad. The emotion is certainly genuine. But whether it is principally inspired by loyalty to the crown, as opposed to nostalgia, loathing of politicians, economic terrors and an abiding desire to stave off Prince Charles, it is impossible to say. Whatever it means, no one should mistake mass worship of Queen Elizabeth for the end of republicanism.